This blog’s been a little quiet for a couple of weeks as I’m currently travelling in Malaysian Borneo. The internet here is even worse than my connection back home (something I never thought possible!).
A couple of weeks ago my wonderful editor Sione asked me to guest post on her blog, discussing what success as a writer means to me. Taking part in Sione’s blog series made me think back to why I began writing in the first place.
But this trip has brought me back to thinking about what it means to experience another culture and place. It’s also reaffirmed my desire to merge these experiences with literature.
Borneo is wonderful – waking up to the sounds of Gibbons and Hornbills in the morning, watching the jungles of Sabah and Sarawak come alive insects and birds I never thought possible.
They say Borneo has more biodiversity than any other ecological hotspot and it shows. We’ve been blessed on this trip to see wild Elephants, Orang-utans, Gibbons, Crocodiles, Proboscis Monkeys, Macaques, Silver Leaf Monkeys, Pit Vipers, frogs, flying beetles the size of my palm, moths the size of both my hands outstretched, and bats in their millions (quite literally – it was truly amazing)
I enriched the experiences of this trip by reading Redmond O’Hanlon’s Into the Heart of Borneo while I made my way through Sarawak. In this autobiographical account of two Englishmen’s search for the Borneo Rhinoceros, O’Hanlon is accompanied by local guides and experiences various indigenous cultures native to Sarawak.
As a perfect reminder of how the environment dictates culture, O’Hanlon recounts the different stages of dawn in the jungle:
I got up and crept out for a swim. The dawn was not fully visible. It was the time of day the Iban call Empliau bebungi, “the calling of the gibbons,” well after Dini ari dalam, “dawn deep down,” and just before Tampak tanah, “to see the ground.”
Such descriptions in the West would be superfluous, as we have alarm clocks and wristwatches, and don’t need to know which species of wild animals are active during certain house of the day.
But to describe different stages of the day like this is common amongst traditional societies, and it is easy to see why. These descriptions serve the practical use of not only telling the time, but also conveying important information about the surrounding environment.
And while I do love my wristwatch, something inside me longs for the poetry for this other, similarly practical method of telling the time.